Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Why Toxic Positivity Is, Well…Toxic
Published Oct 14th, 2020 & updated on Mar 20th, 2021
How many times have you started telling someone about some really tough shit that’s going on in your life and they respond with “Just think positively! You’ll feel better!” …like oh that’s it?? All I needed was some of your toxic positivity??
We’ve heard it a thousand times before. Think positive. Be positive. Positive vibes only. Ugh! It can become frustrating when you feel like your emotions are constantly being invalidated. It’s like people are telling you that you’re not allowed to feel anything negative at all!
Well, humans don’t work that way. We have soooo many feelings. We can’t simply shove our ‘negative’ emotions deep down inside of us and only feel happy all the time. That’s not healthy, and let’s be honest, life would get boring real quick.
People who promote the idea of constant positivity have good intentions because they’re trying to help you see the beautiful things that surround you. We believe that being grateful for the life you have is important, but we also believe that we should be allowed to experience other feelings as well.
Especially if we’re ever faced with hardship. Not every bad experience is “a chance for us to learn and grow.” Sometimes, life sucks and we just want to be sad, dammit!
Toxic Positivity In All Its Glory
Optimism can be a really important concept for some people, especially those who centre their belief system around it. They might want to make their lives beautiful and full of loveliness, and want to share that same feeling with everyone around them. That doesn’t sound too bad, right?? So then what is toxic positivity?
Toxic Positivity is the idea that staying positive and ONLY staying positive in any situation is The. Only. Way. To. Be. The term refers to the overgeneralization of happiness no matter what.
But if this positivity isn’t coming naturally from within yourself and is being forced onto you, it’s inauthentic. It’s repressive and it denies your other emotions. It’s toxic as hell.
When this version of extreme positivity is being forced upon you, it can become really damaging, especially if you’ve gone to someone looking for their support.
Toxic Positivity is actually a version of gaslighting. Surprise! I bet you didn’t expect to see that word in an article talking about “Good Vibes Only,” hey?
What It Sounds Like In Practice
Here are some toxic positivity examples that you’ve probably heard or unknowingly said at one point in time…
“It could be worse.”
“Just don’t think about it. Keep positive!”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Every cloud has a silver lining.”
“There’s always a rainbow at the end of a storm.”
“If I can do it, anyone can.”
Saying these things can hurt someone’s ability to accept what they’re being challenged with. It can cause a person to feel shameful about how they’re processing their emotions because they don’t want to be seen as the party-pooper.
Toxic Positivity puts a certain level of blame onto someone as well. It’s basically saying that the only reason someone is having such a difficult time is because they “just aren’t thinking positively enough.” It can even end up affecting your mental health in the long run. Always being positive, or being told to be positive, can cause people to go into denial, develop self-doubt, and even cause depression (ohhhh the irony!).
For example, only praising someone’s positive feelings can lead to them questioning if they have a right to their negative feelings at all. It can make someone feel like they’re “playing the victim,” when in actuality, they might just need to vent!
How NOT To Play Into Toxic Positivity
Accepting someone and their emotions can be a really comforting and validating experience for them. So, if someone comes to you in need of advice or comfort, here are some things that you can say that don’t play into the idea of Toxic Positivity:
“That sounds really difficult. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.”
“How can I support you?”
“Tell me how you feel. Don’t hold back! I’m here to listen.”
“I love and care about you and I’m here to support you no matter what.”
It’s totally normal to feel sadness, grief, or worry when dealing with a difficult situation. Accepting hardships and the emotions that come with different circumstances can actually help you process everything and move forward in a healthy way.
So, if you’ve gone to someone to ask for their support and they’ve responded with Toxic Positivity, remember that your feelings are valid. How you are experiencing your emotions is completely normal and you don’t have to feel bad about how you’re feeling. Be sad! Be mad! We support you regardless of what your emotional state might be.
If you’re an eternally optimistic person reading this, how you choose to look at the world and tough situations is valid too. Just remember that everyone is unique and that we all process difficult life events differently.
Sometimes, all we need is to complain a bit. Let us have our moment and maybe cry a little. Or a lot. Both work!